By Evan Gershkovich and Pjotr Sauer
8 hours ago
Five hospital staff workers, including senior doctors, told The Moscow Times that FSB agents had their colleagues sign non-disclosure agreements.
The three injured men arrived at the hospital around 4:30 pm, naked and wrapped in translucent plastic bags. The state of the patients made staff suspect they were dealing with something very serious. But the only information they had at the time was that there had been an explosion at a nearby military site around noon.
“No one — neither hospital directors, nor Health Ministry officials, nor regional officials or the governor — notified staff that the patients were radioactive,” one of the clinic’s surgeons told The Moscow Times by phone this week. “The hospital workers had their suspicions, but nobody told them to protect themselves.”
The hospital was Arkhangelsk Regional Clinical Hospital, a public healthcare center in Russia’s far north, and the day was last Thursday, August 8.
After the explosion, radiation spiked to as much as 20 times its normal level for about 30 minutes in the region’s second largest city of Severodvinsk. Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom has reported that the accident killed five of its staff members.
Russian authorities are keeping the circumstances surrounding the explosion shrouded in mystery. With government agencies releasing information piecemeal amid a mass of contradictions, the state’s response to the accident echoes its behavior after Chernobyl, the catastrophic 1986 nuclear accident in then-Soviet Ukraine.
Official reaction has included initial denials that radiation spiked at all, and an announcement four days after the accident that the village of Nyonoksa, close to the military site, would be evacuated. Authorities later denied that they had ever ordered villagers to leave.
The lack of information has led to confusion among locals, who reportedly scrambled to buy up all of the iodine, a chemical used to limit harm to radiation exposure, in the Arkhangelsk region.
They are not the only ones who have been left confused and demanding answers. Four male doctors at the Arkhangelsk hospital — two in senior positions — and a medical worker told The Moscow Times that its staff have been left shocked and angered by the events that took place.
The doctors spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a period of heightened attention by Russian security services.
While none of the doctors worked directly with the patients in question, they all attended a briefing at the hospital on Aug. 12 by a deputy health minister for the Arkhangelsk region and are in constant communication with colleagues who did treat the victims, they said. The doctors said that all staff who worked with the patients directly were asked by Federal Security Service (FSB) agents on Aug. 9 to sign non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from talking about what happened.
“They weren’t forced to sign them, but when three FSB agents arrive with a list and ask for those on the list to sign, few will say no,” said one of the senior doctors.
The Moscow Times was unable to speak with any of the doctors who tended to the three patients or obtain a copy of the reported non-disclosure agreements.
But the versions of events that the five men recounted are identical. They also concur with two additional anonymous accounts published on Aug. 15 — one from a female doctor at the hospital in a local news outlet, Northern News, and one in a local chat group on the popular Telegram messenger.
All seven of the accounts express pointed frustration with the authorities for keeping medical staff in the dark about the risks they were facing.
Officials stopped flying staff to Moscow after one was found with a radioactive isotype in his body. Google Maps, MT
Rather than answers, the doctors were offered a trip to Moscow for tests. All four doctors said that about 60 of their colleagues, including four or five paramedics who had transported the patients to the hospital, took up the offer. The first group flew to Moscow hours after the meeting with the Health Ministry representatives, they said.
According to three of the doctors, including both senior sources, one of the doctors flown to Moscow was found to have Caesium-137 — a radioactive isotope that is a byproduct of the nuclear fission of uranium-235 — in their muscle tissue.
One of the sources said the affected doctor had told him so directly, though he was not informed about the amount or concentration of the isotope found.
The affected doctor declined a request for an interview.
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